After a few recent articles regarding the impact of Markdown on writing habits, I wanted to pitch my own system of using Markdown.

Of course, I use Markdown in all my digital text files. In fact, every text file I have ever created is marked up in Markdown. Markdown is super easy to learn and this meant I could quickly adapt it to all my school notes back in 2010. Day One was released in early 2011 and my entire journal has been marked up in Markdown as well.

Most recently, my written notes have been marked up in Markdown too.

The reason for this is simple: Markdown is so easy to use, so easy to read and so easy to implement that it was a natural progression to transfer the system to analog notes. Obviously, analog notes aren’t actually styled with italicized and bold letters. But the small syntax additions help add context that is otherwise hard to convey.

Here is how I use Markdown in my written notes:

<p>These five little additions to written notes add context and organization in a unique manner. </p>

I like to create headings with the “#” mark, especially when writing out thoughts for the day. This helps to create organized structure if the thoughts extend beyond one page. I could underline titles (like I do the date at the top of the page) but I find the underline often takes up an entire line if I don’t make a proper pen stroke. The “#” fixes this problem.

I use an asterisk extensively to denote emphasis in written thoughts. Trying to angle my wrist to deliver an italicized pen stroke is difficult to do. Using a single asterisk (or double, if in real need of emphasis) is a simpler and healthier way of styling handwritten notes.

I rarely use the footnote marking unless I am writing many different thoughts in paragraph-form. I like adding far-flung tidbits via the footnote syntax that don’t completely apply to the current thought.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the altering of Markdown link-formatting to reference information within my analog notes. I use square brackets to show which part of my writings I want to reference and I include the title of the article or source of the information that sprung my thought inside the round brackets. I can easily take the source of my thoughts and search within my Pinboard or on Google.

I have gone back to using Patrick Rhone’s DashPlus system where each thought starts with a dash. From there, most of my thoughts end in a left-aligned star which denotes a thought or journal entry. However, from time to time, I write down a task or an idea that needs to be followed up on at a later date and I process these with DashPlus. After Patrick showed me how to denote a journal entry, I was completely sold on his system.

So all in all, I use DashPlus to start an idea in my written notes and I use an altered Markdown to style the insides of my written notes. My Field Notes books have asterisks, hats, hashtags and plus-signs all over, and each of these symbols means something different to me. I have found two systems which work great together and which allow my notes to remain readable, searchable and structured.

The best part? My digital and analog notes look the same. I wager anyone writing in HTML’s heyday would never have imagined someone saying that.